Presenting to Executives – How I do and don’t Prepare

public speaking

Short Notice

This Thursday, I was getting ready for work. As I always do before I leave, I checked my calendar and email. What I found was that I had been invited, last minute, to a large meeting with C-level executives and Vice Presidents from across the business.

Being in tech, I typically dress in jeans and maybe a polo. Knowing I was going to be in a room full of upper management, I switched to a nicer button up and a pair of dress shoes.

Fast forwarding to being at work and I’m told our CTO would like me to present on stage. I breathe a sigh of relief that I wore nicer clothes and start working with the coordinating Director on what will be needed from me.

Prepping and Dealing With the Wait

There’s a lot of waiting, and some nerves, but what was wanted from me was to present on a reporting dashboard that I was extremely familiar with. That was an anchor for me. I had been working with this Tableau dashboard for nearly a year. I knew it inside and out. My extended team was my next anchor. The Director and one of her direct reports had both recently helped the CTO through a 45-minute talk at a large industry conference. Getting me a quick demo on my wheelhouse would be a pinch.

More waiting and the meeting’s approaching. We still don’t know exactly what the CTO is going to want to show. I get to the room about an hour and a half before showtime to figure out technical logistics. I load everything up on my laptop and then find we’re using a shared laptop… ugh! I double-check the credentials on that machine can connect to the dashboard. I do a general dry run walkthrough of how it works and I leave it up on a background tab. By now I’ve heard I’ll be wrapping up the metting.

A few years back, my nerves would be shot. Microsft was a very vertical organizational structure. I rarely worked outside my manager and peers. At my new company I ended up in a role where I interfaces with Directors and VPs all the time. I learned something, they’re human. That takes away a lot of anxiety.


Showtime comes. I still have no script. I’m invited on stage and find out I’m going to be walking through a live demo with the CTO. That’s great, now I’m having a conversation with my CTO. It totally breaks the ice. We walk through a use case and some features. I get to demo a wow-factor and I’m done a few minutes on stage that many people would’ve been in agony over.

So, what’s the trick? Know your material. Realize they’re all people. Talk yourself down. A really simple thing is to ask yourself, what’s the worse that could happen? Really, I’d end up looking uncomfortable. They know I’m not an executive and public speaking isn’t my background. They’ve all been there at some point in their career. So how do you prepare for a presentation with a room of 40+ executives and fluid and/or ambiguous requirements?

Image Credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center